Varanasi (India), also known as Banaras and as Kashi, is the city of clanging temples and one that has a rich cultural heritage. One of the holiest cities of India, Varanasi is said to be the abode of Lord Shiva and has the holy River Ganges gushing through the ghats of the city. While the city has a lot to offer, one must definitely do these 4 things when in Varanasi:
Visit the Varanasi Ghats:
The oldest and holiest cities of India, Varanasi will wake you up with clanging bells ringing out of temples. Varanasi has about eighty ghats that line the river, if you wish to take a look at all the ghats, the best option is to take a boat trip that takes you around the ghats where you get a chance to look at different people doing lots of different things, right from washing clothes to getting body massages to selling flowers for poojas.
Visit the Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi and watch the place come alive with dozens of crowds hurrying up and down the ghats as a few others perform Hindu rituals and rites. A lot of Hindu families choose the Manikarnika Ghats for cremations of their loved ones due to a belief among the community that souls of those who are cremated at the Varanasi ghats attain Moksha or salvation. At any point in time that you visit these ghats, you’ll see at least one burning pyre which will set you thinking about how much we dread and deny the inevitable concept of death. As soon as you reach the ghats, you’ll see a hazy sky smothered in smoke that rises out of funeral pyres. The cremation ghats at Varanasi bring out the raw truth of life and the inevitability of death. This might not sound like something you would never want to do but is one of the most inexplicable experiences that you’ll never forget. The Ganges is also used as a spot for people to bathe in the holy water as it is believed to wash away all the sins that humans have committed in their lives. Visit the Manikarnika Ghat at Varanasi early in the morning so you avoid too much crowd. Another plus of going early in the morning will be the Surya poojas that pilgrims perform by the river side. You can also go back for the evening Ganga aarti that takes place at the Dashashwamedh Ghat.
Shop at the Varanasi Markets:
Varanasi, also known as Banaras has been known for doling out some of the best silk Banarasi sarees, jewellery, shawls, stonework, carpets, idols of Buddhist and Hindu deities. Visit the Vishwanath Lane, just about fifteen kilometres away from the Varanasi Railway Station. Tiny shops that make up the Vishwanath market sell some of the most beautiful sarees with intricate designs, delicate jewellery, devotional articles and religious books. The Vishwanath market leads to you to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple and so also sells a lot of items that devotees can take to the temple. If you’re looking to buy accessories, dress materials, statues, brass vessels and posters of deities, the Vishwanath market is the best place to go. The Godowlia market is another popular spot for tourists and locals to shop, till their hands are full of shopping bags. Selling everything right from regular household items to wood carved gift items, the Godowlia market is relatively bigger than the Vishwanath Market and is crowded with shoppers, parked motorcycles and small vendors trying to sell their merchandise. Even if you’re just strolling around the market, we are sure you’ll come back with a shopping bag or two as the market sells everything at affordable wholesale prices. Try to go around 4 pm, so that you have enough time and daylight to look around at the things in the markets before you put them in your bag.
Eat your heart out when you’re in Varanasi:
Varanasi affords as much of a gastronomical experience as it offers sightseeing experiences. While walking around the gallis of Varanasi, pick up a packet of roasted peanuts from the local stalls and munch on these peanuts to fuel you through your shopping spree at the market. Other famous food items that are known in Varanasi are the Tamatar Chaat, Aloo Tikkis, Kachoris and Paani Puris. So make sure you tick all these items off the list before you leave from Varanasi. Don’t forget to finish off your meal with some piping hot jalebis, some chilled rabri and of course the melt-in-the-mouth Banarasi Kalakand. You can also pack some of the kalakand from Varanasi and bring it back for everyone back at home, they’ll love you for it! Also, right before you leave, gorge on some Banarasi paans to clear your palate.
Celebrate the festivals in Varanasi:
India is the colourful land of festivities where communities come together and revel in the glory of the homeland’s rich culture. Some very important festivals and points of interest in Varanasi are the Buddha Mahotsav, Ganga Dussehra and the Bharat Milap.
The Buddha Mahotsav takes place in the months of April/ May to celebrate the birth anniversary of Lord Buddha. The Mahotsav is held at Sarnath every year as Sarnath is believed to be the place where Buddha returned after his sojourn at Bodhgaya and delivered his first sermon here. Next, the Ganga Dussehra is celebrated in the months of June/ July as a way to celebrate the Ganga River (River Ganges) which is worshipped as the deity of fertility, agriculture and prosperity. The day of the Ganga Dussehra is celebrated as the day when the river water descended from the heavens above, it is believed that bathing in the river water on this particular day, washes off ten sins that anyone has ever committed. During the Ganga Dussehra festival, people perform poojas near the river and then float lit diyas in the river, it is one of the most beautiful spectacles you’ll see. The last festival, Bharat Milap is celebrated around the months of October/ November to celebrate the return of Lord Ram to the Ayodhya after fourteen years of exile and his ‘Milap’ (reunion) with Bharat. Celebrated at Nati Imli in Varanasi, Bharat Milap is held one day after Dussehra every year where all the people come out to the street to watch and put Tilaks on locals who are dressed as Lord Ram and Lord Bharat on life-size carts (raths) in the street processions.
Best places to stay at in Varanasi:
If you’re looking for reasonable staying options, we suggest you check out the hostels in Varanasi. Some of the best hostels in the city are the Bliss hostel, Zostel Varanasi and the International Travellers’ Hostel. Got a bigger budget? Check out the Brijrama Palace, The Gateway Hotel Ganges Varanasi or Ramada Plaza JHV Varanasi as these are some of the best hotels in Varanasi.
You can reach Varanasi by train, you can either reach Kashi Junction or Varanasi Junction from major cities such as Delhi and Calcutta. Rajdhani Express is a reliable train that runs through the Varanasi stations. Another alternative to train travel is taking a flight to Varanasi airport from major Indian cities. If you’re planning a trip from Varanasi to other cities in India, you can also check out airline packages that fly you to these locations at cheaper rates.
Best time to visit Varanasi: The best time to visit Varanasi would be from the months of October to March as the weather is pleasant around this time, it is neither too hot nor too cold. The winter months of Varanasi are also the times when most of the festivals are celebrated so if you want to be a part of the festivals, plan your trip according to the festival dates.